Not just Terracotta – Things to do in Xi’an

Continuing our China series, we travel to Xi’an, home to the world famous Terracotta Warriors. Here we show you things to do in Xian besides the Terracotta Warriors.

Things to do in Xian

Xi’an is on the radar of most travellers to China, and rightly so, as it is the home of the Terracotta Warriors. The sight of thousands of terracotta statues standing guard to the underground tomb of Emperor Qin is reason enough to travel to the city, if not to China itself. There is plenty of things to do in Xi’An to while away a few days, and here we have some ideas to share with you.

1) The Drum and Bell Tower

things to do in Xian Drum Tower
The Drum Tower at night

Like most cities in China, Xi’an has a Drum Tower and a Bell Tower. They take their name from (yes, you guessed it!) the giant drum and bell they house respectively. The Bell was traditionally stricken at dawn to mark the beginning of the day, while the drum was beaten at sunset, to symbolise the day’s end.

In the Drum tower there are several drums on display and a drum concert is performed every day. The towers are taller then elsewhere in China, allowing great panoramic views over the city centre.

things to do in Xian bell tower
The Bell of Xi’an

Their unusual height is explained by a legend. A dragon was ravaging the land, and caused a massive earthquake. City officials decided to build a huge chain to restrain the dragon, but they needed somewhere to tie the chain to, and so the Bell Tower was built.

In another version of the legend, the dragon is not an actual monster but it signifies the emperor’s power. The forefather of the Ming dynasty (the reigning dynasty when the towers were built) decided to erect tall and strong towers to crush the ‘dragon’s power’, meaning the rival Yuan dynasty.

things to do in Xian Night
The city at night

2) Xi’an City Walls

things to do in Xian city wall
Some strange art on the City Walls

The fortified walls of Xi’an are among the longest and best preserved in China, measuring 13.82 kilometers in total. They were built during the Ming dynasty, in the 14th century. Walking or cycling the Xi’an walls is a great way to spend half a day. From there, you get a bird’s view of the city and the contrast between the old gatehouses and the modern architecture of downtown Xi’an. It’s also a great place to people watch, sit down and just relax for a while, getting away from the Xi’an traffic.

things to do in Xian Wall Night
Xi’an City Walls at night

3) The Muslim Quarter

things to do in Xian Chinese Mosque
The Mosque in Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter

I, for once, was not aware that China has a sizeable Muslim population outside of Western China. Xi’an was the start of the Silk Road, attracting travellers and traders from all over the world for centuries. Nowadays, Xi’an is home to a community of Hui, a Chinese-speaking Muslim community.

things to do in Xian muslim food
A street food vendor grilling kebabs

The Muslim quarter in Xi’an city centre is the place to go to get your dinner in town. The narrow streets of the Muslim quarter look even narrower, packed as they are with market and street food stalls. The atmosphere is reminiscent of a north African souk; on one side you see a toothless veiled woman selling walnuts as big as your fist, on the other corner there’s a stall hawking jujube or Chinese dates.

things to do in Xian Rice Sweets
Rice sweets for dessert

The best food we tried was Yángròu pào mó 羊肉泡馍 (crumbled pancake in lamb stew). Our CS host took us to a little local restaurant and ordered the delicacy for us. We were given a hard pancake to crumble into our bowl; once we were finished, a delicious lamb broth with glass noodles was poured on top. The crumble pancake soaked up the broth; the flavour was delicious, comfort food at its best for a mere RM 25.

4) The Sound and Light Show

things to do in Xian Fountain Show
The sound and light show

This spectacular show happens every night at the fountain near the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, not far from the centre. Get there early to grab a good viewing spot as the square near the Pagoda is indeed big, but it gets absolutely rammed! The fountain changes colours following the music, all with the spectacular Pagoda as backdrop. We overheard some Americans saying that it was even more spectacular than the famous Bellagio show in Las Vegas – never having been I can’t tell, but it was amazing indeed.

If you’re really fearless, you can also head to Huashan, the world’s most dangerous hike!

Have you ever been? Do you have any other tips for things to do in Xian?

things to do in Xian Terracotta Soldiers
Yes, the Terracotta Warriors are amazing!


2 thoughts on “Not just Terracotta – Things to do in Xi’an”

  1. Cool! It’s good to know that places like Xi’an that are famous for just one thing actually have more interesting things to see and do. I really like how out-of-place that art on the city walls is – hopefully there’s more good stuff like that there!

  2. I also enjoyed these sites in Xi’an. I didn’t see that particular Mosque though. We went to see one that was in a tiny back alley, however part of it was being restored.

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